Pairing(s): YooMin, hints of JaeHo
Word count: 11,200~
Genre: Romance/Angst, Road trip
Notes: This should have been my entry for the YooMin contest (in the 7000 words category XD;), but 1)it grew out of expectations and 2)I suck, so I failed at posting it in time. I would like to apologize to the mod, since I said I would post this like five days ago and I didn't. Sorry D:
About the fic, you should blame it to those preview pics of A Week Holiday, because I'm completely and utterly smitten with them and they made the road trip idea sound very very appealing XD Since I have no idea of their real itinerary, I had made it up; I don't think they travelled through Arizona the way I wrote, but just take it as artistic license :3 And the last scene is artistic license too, since I find it highly unlikely they won't be mobbed in a korean airport, even six years from now XD;
Dedicated to machine_of_july ♥ (thanks for the you-know-what! *O*♥♥♥)
Lots of love to aoishinjitsu, who fixed all my typos and grammar mistakes and made this fic better. Thanks, ILU ♥♥♥
And many many thanks also to katzk for providing the weirdest kind of moral support ever (and also because I feel horribly guilty for not having written your fic yet ^^;;; ) and to melyxcious for telling me a lot of things about Arizona. =D
Extensive italic text = flashback
Ages are given according to the Korean system (Changmin is 27, Yoochun 29)
Changmin looked around, dragging his suitcase along with him – he was too used to having people taking care of his luggage, he thought grimly – and trying to find a familiar face in the crowd of strangers, a little disoriented by the heat and the noise and tired from the long flight from Tokyo to Tucson.
He wondered who he would see first, pictured them all in his mind as he pushed through a sea of foreign features. Yunho walking confidently towards him with a goofy grin on his face. Jaejoong spotting him from afar and yelling Changmin-ah! Changmin-ah! loudly from the other end of the airport with much arm-waving and embarrassment on Changmin's part. Junsu running to crush him in a bear hug. Yoochun looking at him with warmth, leaning in to whisper a Welcome back, Changmin-ah in his ear.
Maybe it was just the time and distance making the memories sweeter, but he suddenly felt like he couldn't wait another second, and his heart beat faster in anticipation. He had almost forgotten what it felt like to miss them so much – time goes on, wounds heal and pain subsides into a dull ache before disappearing completely – but now that feeling was coming back to him full force, fresh as when they had been forced to part ways, and it urged him on. Memories of another trip – when they were younger, happier – surfaced back, faint and dusty with time but painfully real.
“Changmin, look at this!” Jaejoong waves at him excitedly, pointing towards something behind the window of a small sports shop. Changmin can’t really give a name to the object that captured Jaejoong’s attention: it looks vaguely like a skateboard, but the shape is weird and Changmin keeps staring at it dumbly until Jaejoong clings to his arm and gives the object a besotted look.
“What's that supposed to be?” he asks, and Jaejoong turns his excited gaze on him.
“It's called wave board” he says. “Like a skateboard, only much cooler” he adds upon seeing Changmin's blank stare.
“And much more expensive too, it seems” Changmin comments, eyeing the price tag. He can't see why Jaejoong would want one, since he's never set foot on anything resembling a skateboard before, and he tells him.
“But I'm going to learn!” Jaejoong exclaims with enthusiasm “It can't be that difficult!”
“Are you sure you really want that?” Yunho's voice cuts in, sounding slightly apprehensive. The band leader looks at the wave board, at Jaejoong and then back at the wave board as if he were mentally judging the singer's balance skills – and evidently finding them lacking.
“Of course!” Jaejoong says brightly, dazzling Yunho with a wide smile, and Changmin can literally see Yunho's resolve crumble miserably.
“So whipped, leadersshi,” Changmin mutters under his breath as Yunho walks past him and enters the shop with Jaejoong; the older man blushes and gives him a small, sheepish smile. Changmin laughs, shaking his head, and from inside he hears Jaejoong's I'll learn in a flash, just wait and see! directed at him.
Jaejoong never did, of course. Changmin wondered if he still kept that bulky American souvenir, somewhere.
His feet had carried him where that shop used to be, and he was surprised he still remembered the exact spot; but it was a bookstore, now. It was six years ago, I shouldn't be surprised it changed, he thought, and in that thought that was a twinge of wistfulness.
“Changmin?!” a deep, slightly husky voice asked from behind him, and Changmin felt his heart jump to his throat; he was almost as nervous as when he'd set foot for the first time in that room where his soon-to-be bandmates were, so many years ago. And he hadn't heard that voice in two long years.
He spun around and there he stood, dressed casually in light clothes and sandals; he looked a bit heavier than he remembered, and his face wearier, older, but the smile that lit up his eyes when he saw Changmin was the same; it was what Changmin remembered best about him, the warmth and the softness and the playful, flirty edge he was sure he would never lose.
“Yoochun hyung,” Changmin said, feeling his voice tremble embarrassingly, “it's been so long.” He smiled hesitantly, almost afraid to lose control of the emotions that were struggling to get out, but Yoochun had no such qualms; his hug was fierce, tight as if he never wanted to let go anymore, familiar as the musky smell of Yoochun's cologne. He returned the embrace slowly, with his usual awkwardness, but he couldn't help but feel overwhelmed too.
“So fucking long,” Yoochun whispered, face buried in Changmin's neck; Changmin felt the tears in his voice and the dampness on his skin.
Fifteen minutes later they were both sitting in front of a coffee, staring at the murky liquid swirling idly inside their cups without being able to start a real conversation. Changmin's mind was swarming with questions, How have you been and What have you done since we last saw each other and Why did you move to the States so suddenly, but the words just didn't want to come out right.
He stole a glance at Yoochun, finding out that Yoochun was looking at him as well; their gazes met and held for a long moment, and Changmin thought he could see the same uncertainty reflected in the older man's eyes. Did it really take so little to turn someone who had been a part of your life for so long into a stranger?
Yoochun gave him a small smile and looked away, taking a sip of his coffee; Changmin wished desperately for the others to be there already, to fill the silence with animated chatter and to bring all the pieces back together.
“What about the other three?” he finally asked “they should have arrived already.”
“I don't know, no one called yet” Yoochun replied, and he hadn't even finished the sentence that his cellphone started vibrating on the table; with a painful tug at his heart Changmin recognized the ringtone as Endless. That had been, ironically, their last Japanese single before their sudden break-up.
“Oh, it's Junsu!” Yoochun said excitedly, making Changmin feel suddenly and oddly jealous by the fact that Junsu had Yoochun's new number and he hadn't; he watched the older man's face grow incredulous and disappointed as the conversation progressed, and prepared himself for bad news.
“Junsu's not coming” Yoochun finally said “his wife was supposed to give birth in a month or so but it happened early, so he's staying home with her and the baby.”
“Oh” Changmin said intelligently. What the hell?
“I should call and congratulate him, I guess?” he added. He had never been good with this kind of things. “Is it a boy or a girl? That baby sure had an awful timing, though.”
Yoochun chuckled. “It's a boy” he said with a smile, “I bet Junsu is ecstatic to have a son he can teach soccer to.”
Five hours and countless cups of coffee later – Changmin needed them not to succumb to tiredness and to make sure they wouldn't be kicked out of the café – there was still no sign of Yunho and Jaejoong; it had been impossible to reach any of them by phone, either – Yunho's was turned off and Jaejoong's sounded always busy.
“Just you wait until they get here,” Changmin growled, pacing back and forth, “I'm going to destroy them both.”
“Not if I do it first” Yoochun muttered darkly. He looked tired too.
It was Changmin's cellphone that started vibrating, this time, and the younger man flung himself on it like a hawk on a prey.
“It's Jaejoong” Changmin announced. “They better have an excellent excuse or else– oh.”
Yoochun seemed to perceive the change in Changmin's voice, because his expression grew slightly alarmed.
“Is there something wrong, Changmin?”
The recorded message Jaejoong had left him was short and apologetic. “Yunho had a car accident” Changmin said slowly “Jaejoong says it's nothing too serious, just a broken leg, but they won't be able to come. He says to carry on with the trip without them and to have fun, and that we'll all see each other back in Korea.”
“So it's just the two of us, uh? Very romantic” Yoochun tried to joke, but he looked pretty disappointed too.
“Yeah, I guess – I can’t change the date of my return flight, so I’m stuck here with you until next Sunday.”
“That was mean,” Yoochun replied with a slight smile, “you haven’t changed at all, Changmin.”
Changmin wanted to protest that Yoochun – and all the others, for that matter – had always failed at getting his jokes, but decided against it. He was too tired to bicker with a former bandmate he hadn’t seen in two years straight, so he just asked “Where's the car?” in a very tired voice.
Yoochun's convertible was waiting for them outside, glowing a dull orange under the lights of the car park. Changmin supposed it had to be some shade of light blue, but he couldn't really tell; he wasn't familiar with that brand of cars, but he thought it looked very american and overall very much like a road trip car was supposed to look. He smiled a little between himself: it was so typical of Yoochun to care about these romantic details instead of focusing on practical matters. And the car looked awfully big for just two people, he thought bitterly; he threw his suitcase in the backseat, where other three people were originally supposed to sit, and sank in the comfortable leather seat beside Yoochun.
“We had promised to come back again all together” said Yoochun softly, his words almost lost in the rumble of the engine roaring back to life.
“Life got in the way” Changmin answered, equally softly, before falling asleep in the soft hug of leather.
Changmin awoke with the sun in his eyes, blinking to put into focus the unfamiliar room; he couldn't remember how he had gotten there, nor why he was sleeping in the clothes he had been wearing the day before.
Yoochun was sitting at the small desk beside Changmin's bed, writing something down on a battered notebook, and he observed the older man in silence for a while, following with his eyes the familiar lines of his profile; eyebrows furrowed in concentration, the soft slope of a cheek, the sensuous curve of full lips... he turned his gaze away abruptly, focusing on the faint sound of pen scratching on paper instead, basking in a mixed feeling of familiarity and nostalgia.
“Good morning,” Yoochun said with a smile when he noticed Changmin was awake, “I was about to wake you up.”
“Mmmhh” mumbled Changmin, who was obviously in dire need of a morning coffee. “Where are we?”
“Clarion Hotel in Tucson” replied the other, stuffing his notebook back in his bag. Changmin wondered distractedly if Yoochun kept a journal – he had always suspected it but never found evidence.
“Yesterday night you fell asleep in the car and nearly gave me a black eye when I tried to wake you up, so I had to call a guy in the hotel staff to help me carry you to the room. He probably thought you were so drunk you couldn't even stand.”
Yoochun giggled. Changmin rolled his eyes.
“I'll go take a quick shower” he announced, standing up and stretching his sore muscles before heading towards the bathroom, “and then we can go have breakfast. I'm starving.”
It took them nearly an hour to get out of the hotel's restaurant, and Changmin would've gladly stopped there a little longer, if it hadn't been for a certain annoying bandm– former bandmate.
“We can't stay here forever, Changmin, at this rate we won't even make it out of Tucson by this evening.”
“The food on the plane was absolutely awful. And yesterday evening I practically drank only coffee, you can't expect me not to eat!”
“You ate pretty much half the buffet by yourself! The old lady at the table beside us at some point stopped eating and started staring at you.”
“If I have to sit in a car for hours under the scorching desert sun and to be able to read the map as well I need energy!”
“We have GPS. And AC. I think you can make it.”
“You're 27, the 'I'm a growing boy' argument stopped working ages ago.”
Changmin let Yoochun drag him out of the dining room without resisting too much. He had missed this.
That part of desert along Interstate 10 looked exactly how Changmin remembered from their first trip – dry, flat and dusty, sprinkled with a rare town here and there; every now and then a run-down shack or a motel with colorful signs would interrupt the endless stretch of orange and yellow land dotted with saguaro cacti and contorted shrubs. Sometimes a flash of movement caught his eye, but by the time he looked more carefully they had driven past already.
Yoochun's driving was still as smooth and relaxed as he remembered it to be; Yoochun and Jaejoong had always been the only ones who really enjoyed driving, among the five of them, but while Jaejoong loved the speed, the adrenaline, the sight of the landscape blurring and racing past him, Yoochun loved the act of driving itself, the humming of a powerful engine, the curve of a steering wheel under his fingers; he loved being able to go wherever he wanted, to follow an unknown road just to see where it led or rather to drive along a familiar route that took him to a well-known place.
Changmin didn't really share those feelings – he had never been too fond of driving himself – but he had observed the older man long enough that he'd grown to understand them; the way Yoochun's hands curled around the steering wheel, almost like a caress, the peaceful smile that settled on his lips even when he was troubled or upset, he was surprised he remembered it all so clearly.
“Changmin, shouldn’t you be sleeping? We have to record a performance, tomorrow morning.” Yoochun emerges from the shadows of the hallway, making Changmin jump out of his skin in surprise.
“Can’t sleep,” the younger hisses, feeling even more miserable and irritated, “if I could I wouldn’t be here, would I?”
“Watching videos won’t help you very much, I think” Yoochun suggests with an amused chuckle.
“I was trying to wank myself off into oblivion, if you don’t mind,” Changmin retorts rather crossly, “and I was actually succeeding, before you interrupted.”
“Sorry, sorry” Yoochun says with obvious mirth, making a pacifying movement with both his hands. He takes Changmin’s coat, hanging carelessly from a chair, and tosses it at the younger singer.
“Come on, I’ll take you on a ride to apologize for interrupting you.”
“I can’t sleep either.”
Changmin doesn’t speak as they speed past the streets of Tokyo – rainbow-colored lights blurring and tangling in a kaleidoscope so bright that he has to look away – and his gaze lands on Yoochun’s face. He’s not sure he’s ever seen him look like that – his face radiating a sort of easy confidence that he had never associated to his older bandmate, before – and that seems to calm him down in an odd way.
It becomes almost a habit. “I hate Tokyo” Changmin would often say, during one of their worst periods. “I hate Japan and Japanese people and Japanese language. I want to go back home.” Then Yoochun would come to him and take him somewhere in Tokyo, usually to a nice spot along the Sumida river; Changmin would sit on the grassy bank hugging his knees and watching the city lights sparkle on and above the water like glittering jewels, and he would hate Tokyo a little less.
Sometimes one of the others would come along too, but Changmin liked it best when it was just him and Yoochun. Jaejoong and Junsu usually got too loud and nosy, and Yunho was usually too worried about their manager finding out to make the trip enjoyable, but Yoochun understood. He never asked Changmin anything, he just sat beside him and contemplated the scenery in silence, until they both felt better.
It had stopped eventually, when they hadn’t needed it anymore; but Changmin couldn’t forget those moments.
“Stop here, I want to take some pictures” Changmin said; Yoochun nodded, pulling out of the highway and stopping the car in a dusty, deserted clearing. The dry heat of the desert hit them in waves as soon as they got out of the car, even if the sun was already low on the horizon.
They were standing on a small rocky hill, and at their feet the desert spread out for miles and miles in all its lonely, beautiful desolation, a perfect subject for Changmin's pictures. The passion for photography he had discovered in Paris had never left him since, and he spent a while just running around to take pictures, with Yoochun yelling suggestions at him from the car.
Click! The black silhouette of a big saguaro outlined against a sky streaked in purple and gold. Click! A curious coyote sniffing the air, probably wondering what all that fuss was about. Click!Yoochun leaning against the car, beautiful in the soft light of sunset.
When he was done Yoochun joined him on the edge of the cliff, enjoying the warm breeze that ruffled and played with their hair.
“Welcome back to Arizona, Dorothy!” he told Changmin with a silly grin.
“... That was Kansas, idiot” Changmin grumbled, even if he couldn't help but grin back. “But thanks anyway.”
Their third day began with a rush to the nearest gas station, because Yoochun had somehow forgotten to fill the car up at the one near the motel they'd stayed the night before.
The station where they stopped had a convenience store and a little colorful diner, and while the older man was pumping gas Changmin wandered around to buy snacks and other supplies, given that they were running low on that kind of fuel too. It was only when he was about to pay that he noticed he'd taken Yoochun's wallet, instead of his own; they looked somewhat similar, both black and made of leather, but Changmin's didn't have that photograph of the five of them together on the inside.
He recognized the picture easily – it was one of those they'd taken during their trip in the Southwest, in front of a diner not very different from the one there; they looked sunburned and happy, arms slung around each other's shoulders to form a nearly perfect half-circle of laughing faces. That was the day they'd promised each other they would come back to visit the same places in a few years; and they'd been so sure they would still be together, when it happened, that Changmin felt like laughing at their foolishness. At his own foolishness. They had split up a year later and slowly grown apart, each one living a life that had little space for the others; but now he found himself tracing the smiles on the picture fondly with a finger, trying to remember how his life was, back then.
“We were happy. We were a family.” Yoochun's deep voice whispered in his ear, and Changmin spun around, startled.
“Why aren't we anymore?” he asked, with a bitterness he didn't know he felt. “And why did you disappear for two years? Why did you even change your number? I tried to call you so many times...”
Changmin bit down hard on his lip hard to stop himself. He had promised himself not to bring this up, but now it was too late.
Yoochun's expression hardened. “It's not something I want to talk about.” he said curtly. “Not to mention that you were the first one to drift apart from us, leaving for Japan like that; and even when you came back to Korea you were always busy with work... Jaejoong told me that you didn't even want to speak to him and Yunho, at first – do you know how bad they felt about that? Jaejoong used to call me in tears, the first times!”
Changmin looked away in shame. “I don't want to talk about it either” he mumbled, and pushed past Yoochun to get into the car, not noticing he was still gripping the photograph tightly.
The silence that had settled over them after their argument was heavy and unpleasant, filled with questions they didn't want to answer and of answers they weren't willing to give. They were driving north through the state, but not even the sight of the landscape shifting from flat desert land to the fiery red rocks of the central region was enough to lift Changmin's spirit. The road climbed up steep hills, revealing patches of verdant vegetation and rock formations with surprising shapes at every turn; a herd of antelopes lifted their heads from the grass flanking the roadside when they passed, going back to grazing as soon as they decided they were no threat.
Changmin glanced at the map distractedly, furrowed his brows and re-checked it with more attention.
“Why are you going this way? It’s not the road we were supposed to follow” he said as they drove along a narrow, deserted road. The pavement was old, cracked and bumpy, and after some miles on that Changmin started feeling a bit queasy.
“According to the GPS, it’s a shortcut to get to Sedona, and I’m getting tired of driving, so I want to get there faster. I could really use a shower and a bed.”
“But according to the map it’s a dead end!”
“We’ll see who was right when we get there.” Yoochun said irritably, keeping his eyes on the road without even glancing at the map. Changmin wanted to punch him really badly.
“Asshole” he muttered under his breath. Meanwhile the road got steeper and steeper and the signs of civilization fewer and fewer, until they disappeared completely. The engine started making a noise that sounded a lot like some big animal choking, that only got worse when the road turned into an unpaved track.
“Is the car supposed to make this kind of noise?” Changmin asked in a coldly polite voice.
Yoochun grunted a reply that could’ve been a “no” as well as a “yes”, but he was growing visibly worried too.
“We should go back, before something happens.”
“No, we’re almost there, and I’m sure the car can make it, it’s just– Fuck!” Yoochun cursed loudly. A puff of white smoke started rising from the hood, and a glance at the dashboard confirmed Changmin’s worst fears as the car sputtered and died in the middle of nowhere.
A hour later they were still parked in the same spot, and while the engine cooled down slowly – too slowly – and the sun set behind flaming rocks, the temperature inside the car kept rising; they had exchanged just a few but increasingly tense words, and Changmin was sure they were just this short of jumping to each other's throat.
He couldn't stand the silence anymore so he got out the car, slammed the door loudly behind him and stomped off, trying to find some inner peace. The cool evening breeze carried along the faint, exotic smell of the desert that stretched out somewhere behind them, and Changmin let it blow against his sweaty face to sweep away all the ill feelings.
He heard hesitant steps behind him, and felt suddenly, utterly stupid.
Why are we still accusing each other like this? Why can't we let it go?
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“At first I refused to talk to Jaejoong and Yunho because I wanted someone to blame. I knew it hadn't been their fault, but... I needed someone I could accuse of destroying the most important part of my life. I always thought I was strong enough to face the moment when we would go separate ways, but apparently I wasn't.” Changmin laughed bitterly at himself. “I didn't think it would be so... painful. I didn't think I would feel so much hatred and bitterness, and when I realized how much I was hurting them... I ran away. I felt so lost, Yoochun. Everything happened so suddenly, and–” he stopped, realizing his voice was trembling.
Warm arms snaked around his waist in a loose embrace, and Changmin let Yoochun pull him close to his chest gratefully, a sensation of coming home swelling inside his chest and rendering him unable to speak.
“It's normal to feel like that, Changminnie” Yoochun whispered softly, his breath tickling Changmin's neck in a way that sent shivers down his spine. And he hadn't heard Yoochun call him that way in years.
“I told them I was sorry, later” he murmured “I hope they forgave me.”
“They have,” Yoochun replied, and for a fleeting instant Changmin was sure he felt warm lips press against his skin in a silent kiss, “and we should all forgive each other for the things we did.”
“What about you? Why did you move back to the States?” Changmin asked gingerly, not wanting to trigger a reaction similar to the one of that morning. Yoochun sighed softly, giving him a last affectionate squeeze before letting him go.
“It wasn't just America” the older man replied in a distant voice. “I travelled a lot before coming here – China, India, Europe – and then last year decided to come back home. I've lived in Virginia with my father too, for a while.”
“Korea is your home” Changmin said, a little bemused. “You've never liked America that much.”
“It didn't feel like that anymore” sighed Yoochun, sitting down on a flat red rock. Changmin sat down beside him and peered at his face, surprised at the sadness he saw there. On impulse he grabbed Yoochun's hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze, and was rewarded by Yoochun's answering smile.
“You know I compose songs now, right?” Yoochun continued, and Changmin nodded vigorously.
“Of course I know! You wrote a lot of songs for Junsu and for many Korean and Japanese artists too...I couldn't believe they were yours, hyung, they were all so good!”
Yoochun chuckled, and Changmin felt his cheeks heat up for sounding so childishly excited. But his praise was sincere; Yoochun had a real talent for writing and composing songs.
“It's been a while since I wrote something good” Yoochun said sadly “at a certain point I lost my inspiration, and I wasn't able to compose anymore. I still can’t. I feel like I'm looking for something, something I can't find, and I don't even know what it is in the first place.”
He paused, looking at the rugged landscape in front of them, its harsh shapes softened by the gentle glow of moonlight.
“I had to go away, Changmin. I watched the four of you from afar and felt jealous of what you managed to achieve even without the support of the group... Junsu had his family and his singing, you had your budding acting career, Jaejoong and Yunho had each other. I had nothing but my songs and a fading voice, and when I lost those too I felt like I was losing everything again.”
Changmin felt Yoochun’s hand close into a shaking fist under his own, so he gripped it a little tighter, caressing his knuckles with his thumb in a soothing way; slowly Yoochun’s fist loosened, turning inside Changmin’s hold to seek the warmth of their connected palms, and Changmin laced their fingers together.
“We all acted in a stupid way” he whispered to the night, but he knew Yoochun was listening. “We kept pushing each other away and hurting the others… even Junsu, Jaejoong and Yunho did the same, in a way. So foolish and useless, aren’t we? But now we know what was wrong.”
Yoochun looked down at their entwined hands and smiled.
“Yeah, now we do.”